She is going to reproach

The reason I can clearly recollect the exact date of the beginning of
the adventure I am about to relate, is that it was my thirty-sixth
birthday. That is twenty-nine months ago. That anniversary found me more
melancholy than usual. The reason of it was still the same: the feeling
that my faculties were at the same time unemployed and limited, and that
the boundary of my talent was continually being reached. The pretext? I
smile at the pretext. But what imaginative man has not had in his youth
childish and heroic determinations? What artist has not fixed beforehand
the stages in his glorious career, comparing himself to some illustrious
person? Caesar, who was as good as most people, said: “At my age
Alexander had conquered the world.” That is an heroic cry when the pride
of a still unknown power palpitates in it, but it is harrowing when the
conviction of definitive impuissance utters this useless sigh towards
triumph. I am not Caesar, but all my diaries—and I have many—abound in
dates which were rendezvous given by me to Fame, but which she failed to

On my thirty-seventh birthday I had, as my custom was, been looking
through my papers and reflecting that I was still as little known to
fame as I had been in my youth, still as lacking in glorious works,
great actions, and grand passions, and my hope was gradually departing.
That morning, too, an agency to which I was foolish enough to subscribe,
had sent me two newspaper cuttings mentioning my name and making
unfriendly comments upon my work. A fresh wave of discouragement swept
over me, paralyzing the creative energy of the soul, and clearly
demonstrating to me my own shortcomings. My communion with my thoughts
on that darkening autumn afternoon frightened me, and I took refuge in a
means of distraction which was usually successful, a visit to the School
of Arms in the Rue Boissy d’Anglais. There I overcame my nerves by a
series of exercises performed with all the vigour of which I was
capable. A cold bath and a rub down followed by dinner in congenial
company and a rubber used to pass the evening. Towards eleven o’clock I
could return home without much risk of insomnia. I had carried out the
first part of this programme on the first evening of my thirty-seventh
year and should have completed it if I had not, on entering the
dining-room of my club, met perhaps the oldest of my Parisian comrades,
an old school-fellow too, the celebrated novelist and dramatic author,
Jacques Molan.

“Will you come and dine?” he asked me. “I have a table, do dine with

Under any other circumstances, in spite of our long friendship, I should
have excused myself. Few personalities weary me so quickly as Jacques.
He has combined with faults I detest the quality most lacking in me: the
power to impose himself, the audacity of mind, the productive virility,
and the self-confidence without which a man is not a great artist. Do
the great virtues of genius of necessity bring with them an abuse of the
“I,” of which this writer was an extraordinary example?

The two other men of letters I knew best, Julien Dorsenne and Claude
Larcher, were most certainly not tainted with egotism. They were modest
violets, holy and timid violets, small and humble in the grass by the
side of Jacques. “His” books, “his” plays, “his” enemies, “his” plans,
“his” profits, “his” mistresses, “his” health, existed for himself
alone, and he talked of no one but himself. That was the reason Claude
said: “How can you ever expect Molan to be sad? Every morning he gazes
at himself in the looking-glass and thinks: ‘How happy I am to dress as
the first author of the day!’” But Claude was slightly envious of
Jacques, and that was one of the latter’s superiorities; through his
self-conceit he was ignorant of any feeling like envy. He did not prefer
himself to others, he ignored them. The explanation of this mystery was:
with his almost unhealthy vanity only equalled by his insensibility,
this fellow had only to sit down with paper in front of him, and beneath
his pen came and went, spoke and acted, enjoyed and suffered passionate
and eloquent beings, creatures of flesh and blood full of love and
hate—in a word, real men and women. A whole world was produced, so real,
so intense, so amusing, or so moving in turn, that even I am filled with
admiration every time I read his books. But I know it is only illusion,
only magic, only a sleight-of-hand trick; I know that the spiritual
father of these heroes and heroines is a perfect literary monster, with
a flask of ink in the place of a heart. I am wrong. He still has there
the passionate love of success. What marvellous tact, what fingering in
the playing upon that surprising organ, public taste!

Jacques is the accomplished type of what we call in studio slang a
“profiteur,” the artist who excels in appropriating another’s work, and
displaying it to the best advantage! For example, at the period of his
rise, Naturalism was in the ascendant. Zola’s admirable _Assommoir_ had
just appeared, and almost immediately came the extraordinary studies of
peasants and girls which revealed to the world of letters the name of
the unhappy Maupassant. Jacques realized that no great success was
possible in any other form of novel, and at the same time he divined
that after these two masters he must not touch trivial and popular
environment. The reader was satiated with that. Molan then conceived the
idea, which amounted to genius, of applying to high life the results of
the bitter observation and brutal realism so popular then. His four
first volumes of novels and short stories were thus, the description
being bestowed upon them on their first appearance, pomaded with Zola
and perfumed with Maupassant. Epigrams are epigrams, and success is
success. Molan’s success was very rapid, it may be remembered.

Soon after, certain indications made him realize that the reader’s taste
was changing again, that it was turning in the direction of analysis and
psychological study. Then he abruptly changed his methods and we had the
three books which have done most for his reputation: _Martyre Intime_,
_Cœur Brisé_ and _Anciennes Amours_. In them he preserved the faults
usual in imitators: long dissertations, the philosophic treatment of
little love adventures, and particularly, the abuse of worldly
adornment. He had originated naturalism in high life. He introduced
analysis of the poor, humble and middle classes. Afterwards, when virtue
suddenly appeared to be the order of the day, we had from his pen the
only novel of the period which rivalled in honest success, L’abbé
Constantin. It was _Blanche Comme Un Lys_.

When social problems became the critic’s copy, Molan once more changed
his methods and wrote the novel on a working-class family called _Une
Épopée de ce temps_, a work of imagination in two volumes, of which
65,000 copies were sold. See the vanity of æsthetic theories! All these
books were conceived with different principles of art. Through them we
could follow the history of the variations of fashion. Not one of them
is sincere in the real sense of the word, and all of them have in an
equal degree that colour of human truth which seems in this wayward
writer an unconscious gift. The same gift he displayed, when fearing to
weary his readers by an abuse of the novel, he began to write plays. He
wrote _Adéle_, a great success at the Français; _La Vaincue_, at the
Odéon was another, and the newspapers had informed me of his fresh
success at the Vaudeville, with an enigmatically entitled comedy, _La
Duchesse Blue_.

Now the fact that we were at school together proves that this enormous
output: ten volumes of fiction, two of short stories, a collection of
verses, and three plays was produced in sixteen years. Jacques, too,
lived while he worked like this. He had mistresses, made necessary
journeys which allowed him to truthfully write in his prefaces sentences
like this: “When I picked anemones in the gardens of the Villa
Pamphili!” or like this: “I, too, offered up my prayer on the
Acropolis”; or again: “Like the bull I saw kneel down to die in the bull
ring at Seville.” I have quoted these phrases from memory. Besides all
this, the animal looked after his relatives and his investments, and
preserved his gaiety and youthful appetite. I had proof of that the
evening I mechanically dined with him; in spite of my secret antipathy
dominated by the suggestion of vitality emanating from every one of his
gestures. We were no sooner seated than he asked me—

“What wine do you prefer, champagne or Burgundy? They are both very good

“I think that Eau de Vals will do for me,” I replied.

“Have you not a good digestion?” he asked with a laugh; “I don’t know
that I have a stomach. Then I will have extra dry champagne.” His egoism
was of a convenient kind, as he never discussed other people’s caprices,
nor allowed them to discuss his. He ordered the dinner and asked me if I
had seen his play at the Vaudeville, what I thought of it, and whether
it was not the best thing he had done.

“You know,” I replied in some embarrassment, “I hardly ever go to the

“What luck!” he went on good-humouredly. “I will take you this evening.
I shall find out your first impression of it. Will you be frank with me?
You will see that it is not so bitter as _Adéle_, nor quite so eloquent
as _La Vaincue_. But the way to succeed is to baffle expectations;
never, never repeat oneself! Those who reproached me with lack of brain
and ignorance of my business, have had to acknowledge their mistake. You
know me. I say out loud what I think. When I published _Tendres
Nuances_, last year, you remember what I said to you: ‘It is not worth
the trouble of reading’; but _La Duchesse Blue_ is different. The public
is of the same opinion as myself.”

“But where do you find your titles?” I asked.

“What!” he cried; “you, a painter, ask me that question? Don’t you know
Gainsborough’s ‘Blue Boy’ in the gallery of Grosvenor House in London?
My play has for its heroine a woman whom one of your colleagues, better
informed than yourself in English manners, has painted in a harmony of
blue tints as the Gainsborough boy. This woman, being a Duchess, has
been nicknamed in her set the Little Blue Duchess, because of the
portrait. With my dialogue and little Favier!”

“Who is little Favier?” I asked.

“What!” he cried, “don’t you know little Favier? You pretend to live in
Paris! Not that I blame you for not frequenting the theatres. Seeing the
kind of plays usually put on, I think it was high time they gave us
young ones a chance.”

“That does not tell me about little Favier,” I insisted.

“Well! Camille Favier is the Blue Duchess. She acts with talent, fantasy
and grace! I discovered her. A year ago she was at the Conservatoire. I
saw her there and recognized her talent, and when I sent my play to the
Vaudeville, I told them I wanted her to take the part. They engaged her,
and now she is famous. My luck is contagious. But you must do her
portrait for me as she is in the play, a symphony in blue major! It will
be a fine subject for you for the next Salon. I repeat I am very lucky.
Then what a head she has for you: twenty-two years old, a complexion
like a tea-rose, a mouth sad in repose and tender when smiling, blue
eyes to complete the symphony, pale, pale, pale blue with a black point
in the middle, which sometimes increases in size; her hair is the colour
of oriental tobacco, and she is slender, supple and young. She lives
with her mother in a third floor in the Rue de la Barcuellére, in your
neighbourhood. That detail is good as a human document. People talk of
the theatre’s corruption: nine hundred francs rent, one servant, and an
outlook on a convent garden! She believes in her art, and in authors!
She believes too much in them.”

He said these words with a smile, the meaning of which was unmistakable.
His remarks had been accompanied by an insolent and sensual look,
gleaming and self-satisfied. I had no doubt as to the feeling the pretty
actress inspired in him. He told me about these private matters in a
very loud voice, with that apparent indiscretion which implies
thoughtlessness and so well conceals design. But this sort of gossip
always has a prudent limit. Besides, the diners at the next table were
three retired generals, to interrupt whose conversation then gun-shot
would have been required. The noises made by the thirty or forty persons
dining were sufficient to drown even Jacques’ most distinct phrases. So
there was really no reason for my companion to speak in low tones, as I
did in questioning him. But what a symbol of our two destinies! I
instinctively experienced, before even knowing Mademoiselle Favier, the
shameful timidity of the sentiment of which Jacques experienced the joy.

“You are paying court to her, that is what you mean?” I asked him.

“No, she is courting me,” he said with a laugh, “or rather has been
doing so. But why should I not tell you, for if I introduce you to her,
she will tell you everything in five minutes? In fact, she is my
mistress. With my reputation, my investments, my books, I can marry whom
I please; and there is plenty of time. The pear is ripe. But if we were
always reasonable, we should be only common people, should not we? She
began it. If you had seen, at rehearsal, how she stealthily devoured me
with her eyes! I took good care not to notice her. She is a coquette and
a half. An author who has a mistress at the theatre when he does not act
himself, is responsible for a serious orthographical error. You know the
proverb: the architect does not hobnob with the mason. But after the
first performance, after the battle was won, I let myself go. Here is
another human document: little Favier had gone through the
Conservatoire, had been on the stage, and my dear fellow she was still
virtuous, perfectly virtuous. Do you understand me?”

“Poor girl!” I cried involuntarily.

“No, no!” Jacques replied shrugging his shoulders. “Some lover must be
first, and it is better to have a Jacques Molan than a pupil of the
Conservatoire, or, as is usually the case, one of the professors there,
is it not? But I am her poesy, her real romance to tell her friends. I
have been kind to her. She desired our love concealed from her mother
and we did so. She desired meetings in cemeteries at the graves of great
men and I have gone there. Can you imagine me, at my age, with a bunch
of violets in my hand, waiting for a friend with my elbows sentimentally
resting upon the tomb of Alfred de Musset, a poet whom I detest? Quite a
student’s idyll, is it not? I repeat it is very foolish, but I found her
so amiable and so fresh the first time. She ‘rested me’ from this Paris
in which everything is vanity.”

“And now?” I asked.

“Now?” he repeated, and the insolent and sensual expression came into
his eyes once more. “You want me to confess? That is two months ago, and
a two months’ idyll is a little less fresh, amiable and restful.” Then
in a lower and more confidential tone he asked: “Do you know pretty
Madam Pierre de Bonnivet?”

“You still seem to forget that I am not a fashionable painter,” I
replied, “that I have not a little house on the Monceau Plain, that I do
not ride in the Bois, and frequent the noble Faubourg though I live

“Don’t let us mix up our localities,” he replied with his usual
assurance. “The Monceau Plain and the Bois have nothing in common with
the Faubourg and the nobility, nor has the charming person to whom I am
referring, anything in common, except her name, with the real Bonnivet
descended from the constable or admiral, the friend of Francis I.”

“There is one less imbecile among her ancestors then,” I interrupted.
“That is one of the advantages the false nobility sometimes has over the
true nobility.”

“Good,” Jacques said, shrugging his shoulders at the sally with which I
had satisfied my ill-humour against her pretensions. “You remind me of
Giboyer. You are a pedant, sir. But I shall not defend what you call the
noble Faubourg against your attacks. I have seen enough of it to never
wish to set foot in it again. There is too much fashion about it for me.
Grand drawing-rooms are not in my line. I have nothing to do with
aristocratic ladies. One-twentieth of the women in Paris, some young,
some not, some titled, some not, have pretensions to be literary,
political, or æsthetic, but they are all brainy and intellectual, and
they are not courtesans. My pleasure is to turn them into courtesans
when it is worth the trouble. If I ever show you Bonnivet, you will
agree that she is worth the trouble. Besides there is at her house
lively conversation and good food. Don’t look so disgusted. After ten
years in Paris even with my stomach, dinner in town becomes a terrible
bore. At her house dinner is a feast, the table exquisite and the cellar
marvellous. Father Bonnivet has made ten or twelve million francs out of
flour. It is not sufficient for his wife for the celebrated men about
whom she is curious to honour her drawing-room with their presence. They
have to fall in love with her as well, and I believe they have all done
so, till now.”

I urged him to continue his story, though his cynicism made me shudder,
his loquacity exasperated me, and I was horrified at his sentiments,
which were so brutally plebeian in their dilettante disguise, for I was
greatly interested in his confidences. He gladly opened his heart to me
as I listened to him, though he actually liked me no more than I did
him. He instinctively felt the fascination he exercised over me and it
pleased him. We were at college together, and that strange bond would
unite us till death in spite of everything. He went on—

“There is nothing to tell you except that for some time Queen Anne, as
her intimate friends call her, absolutely refused to be introduced to
me. In parenthesis, I wonder if this name Anne has been selected as
coquettishly heraldic? I sometimes dine at the house of Madam Éthorel,
her cousin, whom she detests. I met her there, and I also pretended to
avoid her. She told any one who would listen to her that I had no
talent, and that my books either bored or repelled her, that being the
classic method of a fashionable woman who wishes to pique a famous man
by not appearing to join the throng of his admirers. Kind friends always
let one know of this amiability. _La Duchesse Blue_ was produced with
some success, as I have told you, and then, I don’t know how or why,
there came an entire change of front. One of her beaters—she has
beaters, just like a sportsman, whom she recruits from her most ardent
admirers—Senneterre, whom you know well; the old blond who sometimes
takes the bank here, and is a great admirer of mine. Generally we merely
exchanged greetings, but instead of that he showered compliments upon me
and finished up by inviting me to dine at the Club in the room reserved
for fashionable ladies. That is five weeks ago. ‘How are they going to
make use of me?’ I thought as I went up the stairs. The first person I
met in the anteroom, one of the prettiest, most elegant corners in
Paris, was Madam Pierre de Bonnivet.”

“She was just like little Favier,” I interposed, “a coquette and a half.
Ever since I have known you your stories have always been the same: they
consist of playing with the women who have the least heart, and you
always win.”

“It is not quite as simple as all that,” he replied without getting
angry; “I amused myself with Queen Anne, but not in the way you think.
The beater placed us side by side at the table. I should like you to
have been there in hiding listening to us. The conversation was sweet,
simple, friendly and melting, the meeting of two beautiful souls. She
spoke well of all the women we knew, and I spoke well of all my
colleagues. We declared in agreement that the great awkward Madam de
Sauve has never had a lover, and that Dorsenne’s novels are his
masterpieces, that the demon Madam Moraines is an angel of
disinterestedness, and that the noodle, René Vincy is a great poet.
Judge of our sincerity. It was as if neither she nor I had ever
suspected that one writer could slander another, that a woman of the
world could commit adultery. We have taken our revenge since, and we are
at this moment in that state of bitter warfare which is disguised by the
pretty name of flirtation. I spare you the details. It is sufficient to
know that she is aware that little Favier is my mistress; she thinks I
am madly in love with her, and her sole aim is to steal me from her.
Accustomed as she is to masculine ruses, she has laid the snare which
has always been successful since the earth has revolved around the sun:
there is no virtue like the sensation of stealing a love from another
woman. The most curious thing is that Queen Anne might easily have been
virtuous. Oh, she is very fast. But I should not be surprised to hear
that she has never had a real lover. Besides, if she had had twenty-five
lovers her scheme would still have succeeded. I would wager that in the
earthly paradise the serpent only told our mother Eve that he was about
to pluck the apple for the female of his own species.”

“But what of Camille Favier?” I asked.

“Naturally she guessed or else I told her—I don’t know how to lie—so she
is no less jealous of Bonnivet than Bonnivet is of her. I have not been
bored for the last week or two I can assure you. Things have moved
quickly, and the rapid are just as successful in gallantry as in
everything else.”

We were having dessert, and he was balancing a piece of pear on the end
of his dessert fork as he concluded his confidence with this brutal
cruelty which made me say—

“You are between two women again? You are playing a dangerous game.”

“Dangerous?” he interrupted with his confident joviality. “To whom? To
me? Happily or unhappily, I am insured against these fires. To Madam de
Bonnivet? If she does not love me, what risk does she run? If she loves
me, she will be grateful. Suffering requires feeling, and to women of
this kind that is everything. But I think she is as hard as I am. As for
Camille, it will develop her talent.”

“Suppose one of the lady admirers of the novels of your second period,
_Anciennes Amours_ or _Martyre Intime_, were to hear you now?” I said to
him. “For this is quite the reverse of what you put in those two books.”

“Ah!” he said. “If one lived one’s books, there would be no trouble in
writing them. Come. Let us go down quickly and have coffee. I want you
to see the beginning of the first act. I have only one quality, but that
is a strong one. I can compose. A play or novel of mine is compact,
there is nothing useless in it. The first and third acts are the best in
the play. Madam de Bonnivet prefers the second and Camille the fourth.
All tastes are suited. Waiter, bring two cups of coffee and two fine
cigars at once. Give me just time to cast my eye down the closing prices
on the Stock Exchange and I am at your service. Good. My gold mine
shares are going up. I am about three thousand francs to the good. How
is your money invested?”

“I have not invested it,” I said sadly, “it stays where it is and brings
in from two and a half to three per cent.”

“That is absurd!” Jacques said as he lit a cigar. “I will advise you. I
have good friends, one of the Mosé among others, who keep me well
informed. I know as much as they do, and if I were not a literary man, I
should like to be a financier. But we must hurry. Queen Anne may be at
the theatre this evening, though she has already seen the play four
times. If she is there, you will see two comedies instead of one. But I
am very glad to have met you this evening.”

This author who could when he liked depict with the greatest subtlety
was no fit person to preside over a temperance society. When we reached
the little theatre where _La Duchesse Blue_ was being performed he was a
little more jolly than the beautiful women who drove up in their
carriages from all corners of fashionable Paris, suspected. I still felt
the inexplicable attraction, a mixture of antipathy and admiration, of
which I have spoken. I listened to Jacques as he told me his plans for
new works, and I forgot his horrible failings of heart and character in
my admiration for the imagination from which ideas spurted, as I had
seen the lava in the crater of Vesuvius do, while fiery stones of the
size of a man shot into the air with a report like a cannon. There the
atmosphere is suffocating and full of stench. The sulphur smokes beneath
your feet and burns them. Tears trickle from your eyes. Your breath
fails. It is unbearable. But this brutal outburst of the forces of
nature keeps you there, hypnotizes you.

Jacques, too, in his way is a force of nature. His artistic vitality
will always overwhelm me, and it did so this evening in proportion
with such a hypnotism. For between the formidable exterminating
monster which waves its column of smoke above the devastated Pompeii,
and the inoffensive cerebral volcano whose smoky eruptions overflow
into yellow volumes, or crystallize into three, four or five act
plays, the difference is really very great. Without ironical
extenuation such a comparison would be rather comic. Whether justified
or not, I gave myself up to this sensation without discussion. Wearied
as I was by my day of moral lassitude, was not this way of spending my
evening an unexpected pleasure? The comedy might interest me, for this
foppish egoist had great talent. The actress might be pretty, although
doubtless Jacques’ fatuity had transformed for my astonishment a
Conservatoire fool into a bird of paradise. I had too often
accompanied Claude Larcher into Colette Rigaud’s dressing-room not to
know these footlight-mistresses and their vulgarity. But there are
always exceptions, and Madam Pierre de Bonnivet might be an exception
to her class, although a rich woman who collects celebrities was
hardly likely to please me. In any case, it was worth the trouble of
accompanying Molan to the Vaudeville simply to have the pleasure of
seeing him enter the theatre.

“We will go in by the stage door,” he said “in the Rue de la Chaussée
d’Antin. It is very charming here in the two little stage boxes, and
upon the stage behind the curtain. We can get to the boxes through the
wings, if either of them is vacant.”

He got out of the carriage before me as he said this; he greeted the
door-keeper and went through a doorway and up a staircase with the gait
which is unique in the world: that of the fashionable author visiting
his paper, his editor, or his theatre. Every gesture seemed to say, “The
house belongs to me”; his foot was lighter, his cane waved in his hand,
and his shoulders involuntarily swaggered. These things are in
themselves of no importance, but we painters who have studied
portraiture make it our business to seize upon these trifles. The
theatre staff, when they saw “their author” pass, displayed
inexpressible and unconscious respect. How I should like to inspire some
picture dealer with like respect! When shall I have in displaying my
pictures to a friend, the peaceful and innocently puerile pride which
Jacques displayed in opening for me the door of one of the stage boxes,
fortunately unoccupied, where we sat down while he whispered to me—

“The first act has been in progress for five minutes. You will follow it
directly. A former mistress of the Duke’s is trying to make the Duchess
jealous. Was I lying to you when I said that little Favier is pretty?
She has caught sight of me. Fortunately she has nothing to say for a
minute or two, or she would have forgotten her lines. She is looking at
you. You interest her. She knows the three or four friends I usually
bring. Now hear her speak. Is not the timbre, the music of her voice,
exquisite? Listen to what she is saying.”

I have heard _La Duchesse Blue_ many times since till I know by heart
every phrase. It is a fine delicate play in spite of the affectation of
the title. It contains an extremely good study of a rare but very human
jealousy. It is the story of a friend who is amorous of his friend’s
wife, and who remains faithful to his friendship in his love. He never
mentioned his feelings to the woman. He has never admitted it to
himself, and he cannot bear any one else to pay court to this young
woman. He ends by saving her from a irreparable mistake, without her
knowing the reason or who he is. The first scene in which the childish
Duchess confides in her husband’s former mistress, without suspecting
the recollections she is awakening by the avowal of her own joys, is a
marvel of moving, vibrating analysis, which might be called tenderly
cruel. This play is a little masterpiece of to-day by Marivaux—a
Marivaux whose airy gaiety would be like lace upon a wound. But I did
not perceive the real value of the comedy on this first evening;
although Molan was present to comment upon its smallest details. The
painter in me was too keenly attracted by the extraordinary appearance
of this Camille Favier, whom my friend had so carelessly called his
mistress. The box being almost on the stage allowed me to follow the
smallest movements of her face, her most furtive winks, and the most
rapid knitting of her brows. I could see the layers of cream and rouge
unequally distributed on her face, and the lengthening of her lashes
with black crayon. Even made up in this way she realized in an
extraordinary way the ideal type created by the most refined English
artists: Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Morris. Her fine features were
almost too slight for the perspective of the stage. Her large, slightly
convex forehead seemed clouded with dreams. The elongated oval of her
face made her smile float into her cheeks. Her straight nose, rather
short, ennobled her profile. Her full lips drooped at the corners and
were at the same time sad and sensual, voluptuous, and bitter. This make
up even gave to her beauty a particular charm, which touched me
strangely in its mixture of the real and the artificial. Her rosy cheeks
were visible through her rouge, the fringe of her long lashes beneath
the crayon, the fresh purple of her lips through the carmine, just as in
her playing of the part she represented; a true, sincere and tender
woman, was visible or seemed to be visible.

“It is the thunder-clap,” he said, “you have just felt! You can listen,
too. Your sublimes will amalgate, as Saint Simon said of some one. But
now turn and look with your glasses in the fourth box of the first tier
on the left. You see a woman in white, fanning herself with a fan, with
silk muslin flounces, white too, and an invention of her own? That is
Madam Pierre de Bonnivet. What do you think of her? It is amusing, is it
not, to play the game of love and hazard with these two pretty creatures
as partners?”

I looked in the direction Jacques indicated, and I soon had my glasses
fixed on the fashionable rival of the Bohemian Camille Favier.

The fatuous insolence which my comrade affected then appeared to me
justified, and more than justified, by the beauty of this elegant female
who coquetted with him, as he told me. I knew he was too daring a fellow
not to go on quickly from liberty to liberty. If Camille recalled, even
with her rouge and patches, the Psyches and Galateas of the most suave
of the Pre-raphaelite Brothers, Madam Pierre de Bonnivet, with her
arched nose, her wilful chin, the fine line of the cheek, her elegant
haughty mouth, had beauty enough to justify the most aristocratic
pretensions. How, coming of a poor family—I have found out since that
she was a Taraval—she inevitably recalled one of those princesses so
dear to Van Dyck, that incomplete master, whom no other has equalled, in
the art of portraying breeding, and the indomitable pride and heroic
energy concealed beneath the fragility of feminine grace. The habits of
wealth for two or three generations produce these mirages.

It is certain that the painter of the divine Marquise Paola Brignole, of
the Red Palace at Genoa, never found a model more suited to his genius.
His brush alone could have properly reproduced the glory of that tint
whose dead white was not anæmic—the red lips told that—with the cloud of
blonde hair which paled in the light. The simple sight of the thick
rolls of golden hair lying upon her neck, when she turned her head,
betokened that physiological vitality of one of those slender persons
who conceal beneath the tenderness of a siren the courage of a captain
of dragoons. Her neck, though a little long, was well developed, and the
fingers of her nervous hands were a little long also; her bust, which
was outlined at each movement by her supple white corsage, was so young,
so elegant, and so full. But the most significant thing to me about this
creature of luxury was her blue eyes, as blue as those of the other
woman, with this difference, that the blue of Camille Favier’s eyes
recalled the blue of the petals of a flower; while Madam de Bonnivet’s
eyes were the azure of metal or precious stone. They gave one the idea
of something implacable, in spite of their charm, something hard and
frigidly dangerous in their magnetism. To complete this singular
sensation of graceful cruelty, when the young woman laughed her lips
were raised a little too much at the corners displaying sharp white
teeth close together, almost too small, like those of a precious animal
of the chase.

In to-day trying to exactly reproduce the impressions, which I felt in
the presence of Jacques Molan’s two partners in his favourite game of
heartless love, I am taking into account that my actual knowledge of
their characters influences my recollection of this first meeting. I do
not think I am giving too powerful a touch to this souvenir. I can still
hear myself say, while applause was being showered upon little Favier,
to Jacques—

“You make a good choice, when you like.”

“I do what I can,” he said as he nodded his head.

“I am asking myself,” I continued, “with mistresses of such beauty——”

“One mistress,” he corrected me. “Madam de Bonnivet is not my mistress.”

“It comes to the same thing, as far as it concerns what I am going to
say. I am asking myself, how you manage to escape scandal.”

“I am like Proudhon,” he replied with a laugh, “whom Hugo pretended had
the skin of a toad in his pocket. It appears that this charm protects
one from every danger.”

“Do you think your luck will hold? Then what of the women themselves?”

“Larcher has an axiom: ‘a woman is the best antidote against another

“But the result of that is spiteful vengeance, vitriol, and the
revolver. One of these two women, I should not trust.”

As I said that, I pointed with my cane to Madam Bonnivet.

“Really! beautiful Queen Anne gives you the impression, also, of a
coquettish bird of prey, of a little spitfire of a falcon, whom it is
not wise to tease. Ah, well! If you like,” he went on as he got up, “the
act is over, I will present you to one or the other of them. It is very
funny. Would you believe that in my stories I have always more or less
need of a looker-on; when we think that there are people foolish enough
to criticize the classic tragedies on this account? In my opinion there
is no more natural person.”

He took my arm as he said this, assigning me the part of witness, of
satellite borne along in the orbit of its sun. It is a strange thing
that I am really made for those secondary parts, Pylades to an Orestes,
Horatio to Hamlet; and his coolness did not wound me. Alas! it has been
decreed that I should be, like Horatio, always and everywhere an
unsuccessful man. What irony to have as my Hamlet the implacable egotist
who was showing me the way to little Favier’s dressing-room! I followed
him behind the scenes, up a staircase crowded with dressers and
supernumeraries, and along corridors full of doors from behind which
came the sounds of laughter, singing, argument, and of expressions used
at a card-party.

Previously, I had only been behind the scenes at the Comédie Française
of the famous theatres; where I often accompanied the unfortunate
Claude. At that theatre, was to be found the correct and conventional
respectability, which too often spoils the acting of members of the
company of that famous house. My horror of pretentiousness has always
made me dislike the Comédie, with its elegant appearance, its secular
portraits, its venerable busts, and its elegant green room. There, more
than elsewhere I have experienced the disenchantment of the contrast
between the play and the back of the stage, between theatrical prestige
and its kitchen. On the contrary, behind the scenes of the smaller
theatres, where my friends have taken me, the Varieties, the Gymnase and
the Vaudeville on that evening, I have felt the picturesque antitheses,
the supple improvization, the animal energy which constitute an actor’s
business. Chance willed that in the company of Jacques Molan, after
being a prey to impuissance for the entire day, I should find a complete
cure for my vitality. Did we not hear, as we knocked at the door of
Mademoiselle Favier’s dressing-room, the following dialogue exchanged by
two actors playing the piece, the famous Bressoré, and a gentleman in a
frock coat and tall hat, whose clean-shaven face and bluish cheeks
showed he was an actor of this or some other company.

“I was not up to much in my new part,” the latter asked, “was I? Tell me
the truth.”

“You were very good,” Bressoré replied, “but you have one failing.”

“What is that?”

“You don’t stand firm and look the audience straight in the face.”

“That fellow has just mentioned the secret of success in the arts,”
Jacques Molan said to me with a laugh; “between ourselves as friends,
you are a little lacking in assurance yourself. If I met you more often
I would give you——”

In saying this he did not suspect how gaily and hardly he was touching a
sore in my artistic conscience; and I did not give him the answer which
rose to my lips. “That simply proves the baseness and brutality of
success, and that the artist who succeeds is often a charlatan in

He had just knocked at the dressing-room door. A voice had answered,
“Who is there?” then without waiting for a reply the door opened and
Camille Favier appeared with a smile of happiness upon her pretty face
which changed into a constrained expression when she saw that her lover
was not alone.

“Ah!” she said, slightly confused, “I did not think you would bring any
one, and my dressing-room is untidy.”

“That does not matter,” said Jacques as he gently pushed her back into
the room with one hand and introduced me with the other. “My friend is
no one of importance as you think he is, little Blue Duchess. He is a
very old friend of mine and a painter, a very great painter, you
understand. All our friends are great men. He is used to disorder in his
own studio, so make your mind easy. He asked to be introduced to you
because he has long wished to paint your portrait.” He nudged me with
his elbow to warn me not to contradict his delicate handling of the
truth. “I forgot to mention his name, M. Vincent la Croix. Do not say
you have seen his work, for he shows very little. He belongs to the
timid school. You are warned. Now the ice is broken let us sit down.”

“You can do so,” the young woman said with a laugh. My companion’s
banter, though not very flattering to me, had already transformed her.
“You will allow me to tidy up a little?” she went on as with almost
incredible rapidity she spread a clean towel over a basin of soapy water
in which she had just washed her hands. She rolled up and threw under
the dressing-table several other dirty towels. She put the lids on three
or four boxes of pomade, and hung a red wrapper over a chair, on which I
had noticed a well worn pair of common corsets, which she generally wore
for economy’s sake. She did all this with a smile, and then noticed a
pair of pale green stockings which she wore upon the stage. These she
picked up with wonderful quickness, and I thought I could detect a
tremor of shame in her as she did so. Those silk stockings which still
displayed the shape of her fine leg and tiny foot were a small part of
her nudity. She concealed them in the first object which came to hand,
and it turned out to be a hat-box. “That is all,” she said as she turned
to Jacques. “Do you think I anticipated your visit and changed my
costume in ten minutes, watch in hand? You will not have to endure the
presence of my dresser, who, poor woman, displeases you.” She went on in
a caressing and frightened tone: “Were you satisfied with me this
evening? Did I play my great scene well?”

If she had seduced me the moment I saw her on the stage by her charming
finesse and ingenuous grace, how the charm worked with more powerful
magic in these common surroundings still more unworthy of her! This
simple dressing-room, so untidy, so lacking in embroidery and ornaments,
where everything seemed a makeshift for the sake of economy, recalled to
me by its contrast the sumptuousness and luxury of the dressing-room
where Colette Regaud reigned at the Français. Ah, if Colette had only
had for Claude, when I accompanied that unfortunate fellow to her
dressing-room, the evident love which the Blue Duchess showed for
Jacques Molan even in the tones of her most ordinary conversation, the
ardour of her most fleeting glances, and the fever of her smallest
gestures! She was a delightful child, who loved as she gave herself,
with her whole being, naturally and spontaneously. What divine
tenderness my companion enjoyed simply out of vanity! I felt how
delighted he was while talking to his mistress, at directing this little
performance! His eyes became shining instead of tender. I could see that
he was studying me in a mirror in front of us, instead of looking at the
love-sick girl as he answered her—

“You were exquisite as you always are. Ask Vincent if I did not say so?”

“Is that true?” she asked.

“Quite true,” I replied.

“He echoed my remarks too, I assure you,” Jacques continued.

“Then I really acted my scene well,” she said, with a naïve gleam of
contentment in her eyes; then she knitted her brows and nodding her
pretty head said: “ah, well, I am surprised at it.”

“Why?” I asked her in my turn.

“You ought not to ask her that,” Jacques said, with a laugh. “I know
beforehand what her answer will be.”

“No,” she said quickly, and her mobile mouth assumed the bitter curve it
had in repose. “Do not listen to him, sir. His is going to tease me, and
it is very unkind of him, about one of the nervous impressions which we
all have—you two as well. Do you not sometimes experience a shudder of
antipathy in the company of certain people, whose presence alone freezes
you and takes away all at once your memory, your power, and your mind?
Their presence alone produces a feeling that one cannot breathe the same
air as them without being stifled.”

“Yes, I do know those antipathies!” I cried. “I feel them for people I
meet by chance, whom I have never seen before, who are nothing to me,
but their approach is quite intolerable to me, just as if they were my
avowed enemies. Once I used to try and resist this instinctive feeling
of repulsion. I found from experience that I was always wrong not to
yield to it, and I am sure to-day that an antipathy of this kind, either
strong or slight, is nature’s second sight, and an infallible warning
that a danger threatens us through the being whose existence annoys us

“You see,” Camille said turning to Molan, “I am not so ridiculous after

I had at once guessed the name of the person whose presence in the
theatre so disconcerted this frail Burne-Jones nymph, transformed by the
bad fairy presiding over her destiny into a poor devil of an actress in
love with the writer in Paris the most incapable of love. If I had not
guessed the name Jacques would not have left me in ignorance of it for
long. He is no worse than any one else. I have heard of his good actions
and seen his generosity. To my knowledge he has put his purse at the
disposal of colleagues whom he had more or less slandered. It is
difficult to reconcile that, for example, with the indelicate unkindness
which made him name his mistress’ rival at a time when he saw the pretty
child was so troubled. The explanation, however, is quite simple. Such a
thing as good or evil, unkindness or generosity, never entered into his
calculations. He always played to the gallery, and a single spectator
sufficed to compose this gallery, which in turn made him perform the
best or worst actions, and made him magnanimous or mean. While playing
the part of looker-on for him I realized how correct are the casuists
who pretend that our actions are nothing, but our motives everything.
His motives I could see as distinctly as the movement of a watch in a
glass case.

“She talks to you in enigmas,” he said to me with a gleam in his eyes
which meant: “You shall see if my diagnosis is correct and if she loves
me.” How could this Tussolin Don Juan resist the chance of satisfying
two vanities at the same time, that of the observer and that of the
seducer? He went on: “I am going to amuse you with the name of the
member of the audience who so troubles her this evening. She is not so
complex as you are, and it is simply a woman who gives her this feeling
of annoyance.”

“Jacques!” the actress cried in a supplicating voice, without noticing
that the use of his Christian name betrayed their secret even more than
her lover’s odious teasing.

“I warn you that Vincent is one of her admirers,” the latter insisted in
spite of this appeal.

“Ah!” Camille said, looking at me with a sudden feeling of distrust;
“does he know her?”

“He is teasing you, mademoiselle; I have seen in the theatre no face to
which I could give a name.”

“Then I am a liar,” Molan went on, “and you did not say just now that
Madam Pierre de Bonnivet was a Van Dyck who had stepped out of a picture
just as, according to you, the Blue Duchess has stepped from a picture
by Burne-Jones. There is no need to be surprised, Camille. Comparison
with pictures is a mania with painters. To them a woman or a landscape
is only a bit of canvas without a frame. This little infirmity is to
their mind what an ink stain is to us authors, and he displayed, in
spite of his elegant attire as a man about town, a slight black stain
upon the middle finger of his right hand where he held his pen. That is
just like the rouge upon the actress’ face, the little professional
mark. Yes or no, did you say that about Madam de Bonnivet?”

“It is quite right I said that,” I quickly replied, “but mention the
fact that it was you who pointed this woman out to me, and that I have
not been introduced to her. I told you, too, that I could see in her
eyes a frightfully hard and bitter look. In spite of her beauty,
elegance, and slenderness to me she seems almost ugly, and more than
that—repulsive; I can quite understand Mademoiselle Favier’s

The look of gratitude which the actress threw me was a fresh admission
of her liaison with my friend. Besides she no more thought of concealing
it than he did, though for a different reason. She could not conceal it
because she was so much in love, while he paraded the intrigue because
he was not in love at all. He caught her look and resumed in his
bantering tone—

“Ah, well, Camille, see how good I am. I have brought you some one to
talk to you. He understands you already. Think what it will be when he
has painted your portrait! For he is going to do so for me! Are you

“Perhaps your friend has not the time just now!”

“Did not I tell you that was the reason of our visit?” he replied. I
myself was rather afraid that this project would fall through. “But time
is up, you must be on the stage when the curtain rises,” I said.
“Good-bye, mademoiselle.”

“No,” he continued, “good-bye till presently. Is it not so, Camille?”

“Certainly,” she said with a laugh. I saw by her eyes that she was
experiencing a little emotion. “Allow me to say a word to your friend?”
she added turning to me.

“Good!” I thought. “She is going to reproach him, and she will be
right.” I fell into a melancholy reverie which contrasted with the place
where I was, at least as much as did the delicate sensibility revealed
by each of the young actress’ gestures and words. We had only been with
her a quarter of an hour, and in that time the appearance of the
corridor had changed. Feverish haste now betokened the approaching rise
of the curtain and the fear of being too late. The call-boy went along
knocking at a door here and there. Visitors hurriedly departed. The game
of bezique went on in a neighbouring dressing-room, that of an actress
who only appeared in the last act.

“Here I am,” Jacques said, interrupting my meditation by touching me on
the shoulder, “let us get back to our box at once. If Camille does not
see me when she appears on the stage, she will look for me in Madam de
Bonnivet’s box and lose her power.”

“Why do you amuse yourself by exciting her jealousy?” I replied. “How
can you be so hardhearted? You pained her just now. She was angry.”

“Angry?” he cried, “angry? Why she has just asked me to see her home
to-night. Her mother is not coming for her. Angry? Why women love
teasing. It troubles them at first, but then they are like all vicious
animals, they can only be subdued by hurting them. I want you now to see
her rival. About the middle of the act Favier goes off the stage, and I
will go to Madam de Bonnivet’s box and ask permission to present you.
You shall see what a different woman she is.”